The subtitle of Grow Organic: Over 250 Tips and Ideas for Growing Flowers, Veggies, Lawns and More by Doug Oster and Jessica Walliser reads “for first-timers and old-timers alike,” but I think it excels at helping veteran gardeners who have been using chemical fertilizers and pesticides to make the transition to an organic approach.
Friendly and Non-Judgmental
The writing style is friendly and non-judgmental. I’ve never heard the Sirius radio program “The Organic Gardeners,” which the two authors co-host, but I imagine they sound pretty much the way they read in their book. Botanical nomenclature is kept to a minimum, and unfamiliar terms are explained. Though the book starts out detailing the reasons why a switch to organic gardening is desirable, there’s no finger wagging or scolding. There’s also not a whiff of “granola-eating hippie speak” or “earth-mother spirituality,” which a lot of people mistakenly believe they have to embrace in order to garden organically. In other words, it appeals to the broadest possible audience. (And no slight intended to hippies or earth mothers!)
The authors are reasonable in their approach. The two of them quit “cold-turkey,” but they don’t expect their readers to do the same. Instead they outline a multi-year approach that gradually weans the gardener off chemical solutions, but more importantly, focuses on the attitude changes that are necessary for organic gardening to succeed. Too many people think organic gardening just means “stop using chemicals,” but you also have to start building the soil, monitoring for pests, and, in general, thinking and observing more. For most people, I’m sure that’s the hardest part.
I like how Oster and Walliser play off each other. Each chapter has sidebars that highlight one or the other author’s approach or experience. It’s not quite “he says/she says,” but it brings home the idea that organic gardening is not a monolithic endeavor. I also enjoyed the charts in the vegetable and fruit chapters that showed Oster’s and Walliser’s favorites side by side. There’s not much overlap!
Suits Veteran Gardeners Best
While this is a great book for an experienced gardener who wants to switch to organic gardening, I have to say it’s the kind of book that would have driven me nuts as a beginner. Just as my son gets annoyed with recipes that say, “Cook until done,” I had issues with books that said “grow varieties that do well in your area” or “keep soil evenly moist.” To a certain extent, it can’t be helped, because experience is the best teacher. But because this book aims to be a general overview for the widest possible audience, it doesn’t go into the kind of detail that a beginning gardener would appreciate.
But if you have a friend or relative who gardens with Super Feed in one hand and Bug-B-Gone in the other, this is a good book to introduce them to a healthier and more sustainable kind of gardening, without putting them off.
Next: Interview with author Jessica Walliser